Tours around the poet Seamus Heaney’s ‘first world’ in Magherafelt have been rated a five-star experience under a Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) quality grading scheme.
The accolade shows the Laurel Villa Tours of Heaney Country are of ‘exceptional’ standard and follows an earlier NITB four-star rating for the award-winning Laurel Villa Boutique Guest House from which the tours begin.
The Guardian has described the Heaney Country tours as “One of the top ten outdoor activities in Ireland”, while among widespread positive media coverage and compliments Hairy Biker and Heaney enthusiast Si King has also taken the experience for BBC’s The One Show.
Covering the life and works of the major poet, the five-star tours are conducted by historian and experienced Blue Badge guide, Eugene Kielt, a Magherafelt native, proprietor of Laurel Villa Guest House and a friend of the late Nobel Laureate.
Eugene has guided poetry aficionados, overnight guests at Laurel Villa as well as non-residents, groups and travel journalists from all over the world around the townlands, places and scenery used in the poet’s work.
As well as the tours of Heaney Country the guest house boasts a full Seamus Heaney experience that includes an exhibition and regular Heaney-related poetry evenings, and it is the epicentre of the On Home Ground Poetry Festival, inaugurated last year and named by the poet before his untimely death.
Most of the 2014 festival events will be held in the stunning grounds of Laurel Villa, a designated UK Poetry Society Landmark and a major tourist attraction for Heaney devotees.
Presenting the five-star plaque, NITB Chairman Howard Hastings said: “The late great Seamus Heaney is Northern Ireland’s towering literary figure, and the fact that visitors can experience warm, local and first-hand connections with his life and works through tours of exceptional quality is a great boon for local tourism. In the most picturesque of surroundings, visitors can not only be inspired by Heaney’s poetry, but also enjoy some of Northern Ireland’s loveliest landscapes and finest hospitality.”
NITB assesses visitor experiences via an incognito visit from an experienced quality assessor and checks across a number of criteria including hospitality and welcome.
Eugene said: “Having been conducting specialist tours of Heaney Country for many years it is very pleasing indeed to see them awarded a five-star quality mark by NITB. We now look forward to sharing the Seamus Heaney experience with many more visitors, enthusiasts and guests.”